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Norfolk man's epic journey from a Japanese POW camp to becoming a local fire hero

PUBLISHED: 17:05 12 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:34 13 June 2019

Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman.
His son David and daughter in law Tina with all the memorabilia.
Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019

Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman. His son David and daughter in law Tina with all the memorabilia. Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

Archant 2019

The family of a young Norfolk soldier who was subjected to four years of brutal treatment in a Japanese war camp have shared their memories of his tragic yet inspiring journey.

Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman.
Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman. Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

Frank Chamberlain was born in Wymondham on January 16, 1917, and after completing his education in the town, joined the Royal Marines aged 18.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the young marine was sent to a Royal Naval base in Hong Kong and put in charge of watching mines at one of the land stations.

On December 15, 1941, his parents received a festive telegram from their son reading: "Loving wishes for Christmas and the new year Keep Smiling please don't worry."

But on Christmas day 1941, communication from Frank stopped completely.

Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman.
Pictured during his time as a fireman.
Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman. Pictured during his time as a fireman. Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

Unknown to his family back in Wymondham, the young man had been captured by the Japanese as troops took over the island, killing vast swathes of British soldiers and taking many more prisoner.

Frank was one of those held, initially at Argyle Street Camp in Kowloon and then at the nearby Sham Shui Po Camp, where Mr Chamberlain said he suffered unimaginable torture.

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It was not until 10 months later, in November 1942, that Frank's parents were contacted by the International Red Cross Committee, who told them Frank was a prisoner of war (POW).

Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman.
Pictured during his time as a fireman.
Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman. Pictured during his time as a fireman. Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

David Chamberlain, Frank's son, said his father spoke very little of his time in the camp and his family suspected that like many veterans of the time, never recovered from the brutality.

He added: "Christmas Days thereon were never the same for him. Often he would just say he lost some terrific friends and comrades in that time."

The Wymondham family have preserved the veteran's letters and notebooks from the time and said they make for bleak reading.

On September 14, 1945, Frank and his comrades were finally released.

Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman.
Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019Wymondham man, Frank Chamberlain was a Japanese POW during WWII on his return home after liberation he became a fireman. Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

But after four years in barbarous captivity, the young man's health was in tatters, leaving him unable to continue as a marine.

He joined Wymondham Fire Service in 1950, becoming the leading fireman in service and winning a long-service award 24 years later.

People can find out more about Frank Chamberlain and other Wymondham firefighters at the Wymondham Heritage Museum.

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